Lary Néron isn't your typical travel agent. In fact, he doesn't even consider himself a travel agent. He calls himself an airfare consultant.
With a background in airfare pricing at WestJet, Lary set out to create a travel agency that provides extraordinary value for clients and in return, he would be compensated via fees.
By all accounts, he's been a success. In 2019, his air-only agency booked $775k worth of air and while he earns commissions on air, 85% of his income comes from his airfare fees. His fee structure ranges from $60-500/tix CAD and a handful of monthly retainers bringing in hundreds of dollars per client.
He's a strong believer that his model can help other advisors charge more for air and that his business philosophy goes beyond air and can be applied to any niche. So sit back and listen/read up as we learn how this RV-driving nomad does it!
We ❤️ reviews!
1. Fee Webinar: An excellent guide to how and why to charge fees.
2. Lary's Fee Page: Take a look at the fee structure he has in place and published on his website.
3. HAR's Annual Fee Survey: Great data on whose charging fees, what for, how much, and loads more. Also links to other fee resources on the site for those interested in charging fees.
4. Lary's Airfare Program: If you're curious about implementing Lary's fee philosophy in your agency, sign up for more details on his course. Launching Nov. 18th, 2020
5. Debit memos: Curious about debit memos? Here's everything you need to know about them.
6. Voxer: The walkie-talkie app Lary uses to communicate with his clients.
7. SeatGuru: One of Lary's go-to resources for researching the best flights and flight amenities for clients.
8. HAR's Free Travel Agency Business Plan: 14-pages of pure goodness to help you strategically think through your agency's set up.
Steph: [00:00:00] You're listening to Travel Agent Chatter volume 17. Travel Agent Chatter is an audio series produced by the team here at Host Agency Reviews, roughly every quarter.
Today, we're picking the brain of a self described airfare consultant who charges between $60 to $500 per ticket, as well has a handful of his clients on retainer.
You'll learn how he does it, why he does it, and some cool tips and tricks to apply to your agency. Before we jump into the show, a few updates. First that thank you for filling out our travel agent income survey, that we talked about in the last episode. I'm thrilled to say that the heart team has been busy crunching data and the 2020 Hosted Travel Agent Income Report is live on the site.
We'll be pushing out more reports, soon, covering independent advisors income, travel agent employee salaries and benefits, and a report on the income and startup costs for new advisors.
And you can always find all of HAR's reports by visiting our blog and selecting travel agent surveys from the tags drop down.
And one last shout out before we get started, I'm thrilled to say we reached our goal for our 20/2020 campaign. That's right. We hit 20 new reviews in 2020! So thank you for all your help.
And I think I've kept you waiting long enough, haven't I?
Let's get on to the show!
Well, me oh my! Boy, do we ever have a fun show for you today!
And we as an industry, totally need a fun and inspiring show to add a little sunshine to the horrific year 2020 that all of us want to see in our rear view mirror. So Lary Neron is living proof that you can make money in airfare. We'll be talking today about how he builtup his business and how you can build your air sales, and increase them to be more confident in booking your air. We'll give like a lot of hands-on tips for you.
I just want to remind everybody there's plenty of ways, ways to digest our podcasts. So we have the video, which is on our YouTube page for Host Agency Reviews. We have the transcript at hostagencyreviews.com/TAC, and of course you can also listen to it and stream it on your favorite podcast platform.
Let's see. So today's schedule, we'll be breaking it into five different segments. The first will be beginnings, next step will be all things fees. We'll talk about Lary's booking process. And then the last one is my catch-all bucket... it's all other things. So, and then we'll finish it with our warm fuzzy segment.
So let's get this show on the road. Lary, welcome to Travel Agent Chatter!
Lary: Hey, thanks for having me. Nice to be here.
Yeah! Well, I want to paint a little picture of Lary for you because he's Canadian. So between Lary and me, maybe hearing some really long Ooooooo's in our Northern accents as they come out.
And Lary, I don't know if you know this, you're really ndlucky that you're based out of Canada because when people ask you where you're from, like Minnesota is just horrible because you have such a long O in it. And so they're like, Ooooooh, Minnesota. So I try to say it like as fast as I can. I'll be like Minnesota. And I hope that my Os don't show up.
Lary: [00:03:35] Well, my first language was French, so I do have a mix of Canadian and French in there. So a bit of a bag.
Steph: [00:03:45] Well, I'm so excited to have you on today because I have to tell you, airfare is not really my strong suit, but you're one of the biggest aviation geeks I've met and I love your passion for it.
So Lary's from Canada, as we said, he loves road biking and your agency isn't quite, I wouldn't call it home based. What would you call it Lary? Like RV based?
Lary: [00:04:10] Pretty much, yeah. It's based out of my RV and I usually travel around North America depending on the weather. So I spend my time in between Canada, US and Mexico, so wherever the sun goes, I go.
Steph: [00:04:22] Yeah. Or depending on infectious diseases. Cause now you're kind of trapped up there, right?
Lary: [00:04:27] That's right.
Steph: [00:04:29] Well, Lary's been kicking around the industry for about 15 years. Seven of it as a travel advisor. And he was also with WestJet for a little bit, doing some travel industry things.
Well, when we were talking earlier, one of my favorite moments, was when you casually mentioned, as if this was completely normal, that you'd played an airline simulation game for fun. And when you, when you first mentioned it, I thought you were like, you know, pretending to pilot a plane or something, and you got points for good landings.
But it turns out like the game is actually simulating running an airline. So I'd like you to kind of tell us, because I know I'm not the only one wondering this, how in the world did playing that simulation game, get you into WestJet's pricing department, like air pricing department without any qualifications?
Lary: [00:05:27] Yeah, absolutely. I got hired first of all at WestJet cause I was bilingual French and English. So my first job was a super sale agent on the phone in a call center. And I spent about six months there, which was the minimum time we had to do before we can move to another job. And then I moved to the groups department after that, and throughout these two and a bit years, I was playing their airline game called Airline Simulations online. All the time, on the weekend, geeking out about building an airline with my own schedule, my own fees, buying my planes and managing the money and this money as well.
And, one day a position came up with the pricing department as our coordinator position and like most, we read descriptions of, you know, job postings and I always feel like you're not qualified for it or you're missing a bunch of stuff. And one of my team leader at the time said that you should just go shadow, just go see what they do.
And I took some time, I went there and, when I saw exactly what they did, which was they just manage the airline and all their pricing sheets were in Excel. Exactly what I was doing with my fake airline, which I don't even recall what the name of it was then.
Steph: [00:06:33] I was gonna ask!
Lary: [00:06:35] I don't recall. I think I, I, I think I probably had like, some Canada in it.
Steph: [00:06:41] Like Lar-Air! I like that
Lary: [00:06:43] That would have been a good one. And then I, you know, I applied for the job and I got an interview. And then I started the interview with my fake airlines papers and all my spreadsheets printed:my schedule and my pricing, everything. And saying, "listen, you guys do this for real and I do it for fun. So I'm pretty sure I could do this."
And that got me a foot in the door to the pricing and the revenue management team at WestJet at the time.
Steph: [00:07:09] So you did that for like seven years, is that right?
Lary: [00:07:14] Six and a half years in the department altogether. Yeah. And that was nine years of shit all together.
Steph: [00:07:19] And then after West jet, you decided that you wanted to be on the advisor side of things. So tell us a little bit about your next stint and how that gave you... it was kind of like a stepping stone to starting your own agency. So what happened there? Where were you at and what happened?
Lary: [00:07:36] Yeah, the end of after six and a half years, like I've done pretty much all I could do in the revenue management department and it was fun.
And I just didn't want to stay until it was no longer fun for me to leave. And at the same time I was doing some personal development work on the side and came the topic of passion and questioning what I was doing. And I realized that I liked helping people buy, right?? For so long I'd been booking tickets for my parents, my brother, my sister, friends, families, like everybody who needed to fly.
Like I was always the go-to person to book it. And so I wanted to jump the fence. Take all that knowledge I'd gotten from the airline and get over to the consumer side and make them benefit from all that information that I've learned.
So I went on doing that. I quit WestJet, on the spot, and I took the summer off and so I could build a business and, you know, all that kind of stuff.
And I said maybe it's just easier if I just get a job. And I applied for a Flight Centre, a travel agency in Canada in a retail mall, and I got hired right away. Had some qualifications, right? Got trained up and I spent 10 months, doing a retail travel agency with a uniform, you know, and got a taste of that.
Steph: [00:08:46] That's my favorite!
I don't even know what the Flight Centre uniforms look like, but I love that they have them.
Lary: [00:08:52] Oh, we had a tie. We had a tie, I didn't even know how to do like, a real tie.
Steph: [00:08:57] Not clip on? It's a real one?
Lary: [00:08:58] Yeah it was a real one.
Steph: [00:08:59] Super fance!
Lary: [00:09:00] Yeah. They gave us real one. So that was, that was, that was fun. But after 10 months I realized that, you know, I was going into my direction, meaning that I was doing what I really wanted to do, but it's the way that they were doing it. I just didn't want to do it the same way.
And that's what got me to quit Flight Centre and start on my own as an independent travel agent on January 2014, right off the bat, without any experience or any clients or book of business.
Steph: [00:09:28] And it was kind of the idea that they weren't transparent with the fees that was kind of trouble for you, right?
Lary: [00:09:37] Yeah, absolutely. So it was, you know, the fact that everything was on a transaction per transaction level. Like every time you sold something, you needed to make sure you extract as much money as you possibly could for that client. As opposed to just build a relationship for the long term and that will benefit both people in the end, but it was always numbers, numbers, numbers.
And I didn't feel confident, you know, like charging more than what it was, in case somebody noticed. And then all of a sudden, like now all of a sudden your credibility just goes down the drain and then you can lose a bunch of client, a lot of clients ding that. And I just didn't want to do that. Like, I just wanted to charge fees for what I did.
I wanted it to have my name at the bottom with the fee associated with it is how kind of it started. And then later on, through listening to other people, it became a fee and that's how I decided to start on my own. And right off the bat, I started charging fees.
All Things Fees
Steph: [00:10:33] Well, that's the perfect transition to our next section, which is All Things Fees.
So fees are such a hot topic right now in the industry with COVID creating this huge push for travel advisors to start charging fees for their services. Everywhere you look, there's an article or a webinar on fees. And we just recently did a fee trend webinar with how COVID is kind of changing things and Lary reached out to me after that. Yeah, it's pretty fun, I even pull up my trumpet for it! So I will put a link in the show notes, for people that want to watch the fee trends/trumpet recital webinar that we put on.
Let's see, so you had written in, and you had shared with me how you only sell air and that 85% of your income comes from ticketing fees and that 15% is from the air commissions. So your ticket fees range from $60 to $550 Canadian dollars, right?
Lary: [00:11:40] Yeah. So for international travel, if you want to keep it simple, it starts at $165 and it goes up to $425. Yeah. And then the domestic stuff, it's a little less, but I raised the fees all the time cause I just want to do less of those. But the international is what I do most and mostly in the premium cabins as well. So, so that's why I still have 15% commission cause there's still good commissions to be made when you book a premium cabin and business class, most of the time.
Steph: [00:12:07] And to give everyone an idea of how much air Lary is booking. So he booked a $775,000 in air-only in 2019. So I think for a lot of people, it might be easy to think like, "Oh, it's easy for Lary to become an air fare expert and to charge those fees because he has the background of the inner working of the airlines, but I don't have that experience." But your philosophy is that it's not so much about what you know, but it's about the services that you're providing.
So what do you, what do you mean by that? Can you explain that a little more?
Yeah, absolutely. You know, when people ask me, like, when I tried to explain what I do and it took me years to nail it down and I still don't have it nailed down exactly what I do. People always come back to, "So you're a travel agent?"
I'm like, well, essentially what I say now is like, "Well, I have a service company and I happen to have an expertise in airfare." But primarily why people come to me is for just peace of mind; it's all about service. Yeah, I do have an advantage in a sense where I know some airfare stuff that gives me an edge that way, but people don't come to me because I save them money, right?
Like that's the byproduct of working with me. It's like we ended up saving money because I know a little more because I happen to work in the airline industry and part of the airline with the revenue management team and the pricing. But primarily it's peace of mind. My primary client is the person who's spent their entire life exchanging time for money, and now they're going to exchange me for time, right?
Lary: [00:13:49] So now they pay me and whatever hassle I can take off their plate. And really all I do with the pieces is I just try to make sure the itinerary is as seamless and stress free as possible. I'm proactive as opposed to reactive. You know, like I track all the flights from my clients. I make sure the flight connects. If the flight doesn't arrive on time and is delayed, then I send them a quick message.
When I first started, I still did not want a client to call me at three in the morning and for them to tell me that their flight was canceled. I always wanted to know before they did.
So I start sending all these alerts to warn me if things were going to go off the rails. And I found out by that, you know, by getting that email automatically, I'd be like, 'Oh, flights delayed'. I get on my phone and I send a message to my client saying, "Are you still at the bar?"
"Yeah, I'm just about to leave for the gate."
And I text him back and I said, "Listen, your flight's delayed 20 minutes, have another cocktail."
And then all of a sudden, like it turns into like telling to his buddies, like, "Hey, our flight's delayed."
"Well, how do you know?"
"Well, my travel guy sent it to me."
And this little thing made the world of a difference to these people.
Like, it just reinforced that somebody was flying with them and had their backs. ANd it turned into a great value tool, like a service tool that translated into huge value in terms of pricing for my client. Which, in essence, time-wise it, it literally takes no time, but I can extract a lot of value out of that.
So when we talk about these fees specifically in my business, I don't tend to price these based on how much time it takes me to do the job or the task. I price my services based on how my client would perceive the value of what I deliver.
So it has nothing to do with what I believe it's worth, because I'd never paid a thousand dollars for a business class ticket to go to Europe, right? But plenty of my clients do, right?
And then, going back to my avatar, I know that most of my clients pay $150 for a men's haircut, right? Crazy. And weill pay $150 for a one hour massage, right? I pay $60. They pay $500 for an oil change. They'll have a pay anywhere from $400 to $600 for a lawyer per hour.
So I can't come along and say, "Hey, I'm going to charge you $35 to do your booking, right?"
Steph: [00:16:07] Yeah.
Lary: [00:16:07] So all my fees are based according to what my clients are accustomed to be paying in their life, against all the other professionals, and what they value. And you know, that's all it is. There's a lot of my clients would tell me, like, it's a great cause there's not a lot of places you get service nowadays.
And when you deliver it, you just pay attention. It's personalized. You take good care of them. You communicate with them. And you just give them confidence and they will never go away. Like, it's amazing. And it's just service, right?
And they come to me because of that. And sure, I mean, it's helped when I save money— everybody likes to save money—but it's primarily the peace of mind that I deliver.
Steph: [00:16:50] So, are there any like specific tips that you learned from working in the pricing department that you apply as you're searching for airfare, for your clients?
Lary: [00:17:05] Oh, yeah. I mean, there's a lot of techniques. I mean, how to build an itinerary, right? If I have a client that has to do to stuff in Europe, and instead of building a three legged flight in Kayak that's priced at $6,000, then I'll know that if I build an open jaw, I'll get the pricing I want.
And I'll just book a separate ticket to Europe, right? Cause that's cheap and that's easily changeable and that could save a lot of money. If my clients try to let me know ahead of time what they have coming so that I can pay attention to if there's sales, if there's anything coming up.
Cause I mean, they're not really price sensitive, but I mean, if there's savings to be had, we'll go for it.
Something like advanced purchase. If I tell a client today, this is the price and I'll go into the booking or the fare basis code. And I'll notice that that fair expires the 14 days out and tomorrow will be 13 days out, then I can tell them, "Listen, maybe we want to do this today. Tomorrow I can guarantee you the price is most likely going to jump."
So there's very little things like that—pricing, stopovers. Which is something that's in pretty much a lot of international rules that a lot of people don't know that. Where you can, if you build an itinerary a certain way, you can add a stop over for sometimes for free.
Sometimes they allow you free stopovers, sometimes it's a hundred bucks extra. And that makes a huge difference because chances are, if you have clients that have looked themselves, they've punched in from here to here, from here to here, to here, to here and online it's priced out $5,000. And when I build mine the way I do with the knowledge I have of pricing, then it's going to come up at $2,500 cause he got that free stopover and it didn't calculate as an extra two flights on the whole itinerary.
So there's a whole bunch of little things. And these are all things that travel agents have access to. And it goes a little more into detail, but, that's, that's the easy part for me. I love to do that.
Steph: [00:19:01] I know, it's great hearing you talk. So, because not everybody, maybe not all advisors are as into air and may not even really book it for their clients. when you say open jaw, would you mind explaining what that is? Cause I'm, I'm sure there's some listeners that aren't up to date on it.
Lary: [00:19:19] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I have a client particularly that does the route quite often, and he'll go from Vancouver to Zurich and then he'll stop in Dubai and then Dubai back to Vancouver.
And again, just knowledge of airline hubs and where routes are going and he's an Air Canada status holder, so we usually book him Vancouver to Zurich and then Dubai back to Vancouver. And that part in the middle, we book it separately and we book a Swiss flight. And every time we do that, we can do that entire journey— and he flies premier economy most of the time—for $2,300 Canadian. Which is pretty good cause if we tried to do that all on the same airline, we would have to go Dubai back to Europe, back to Vancouver, which would make it that much longer for him on the plane. So not only did he save money, he saves a lot of time not spent on the plane.
And just because of how I structured the itinerary with that open jaw, meaning he ended in the city, in Zurich, and he'll be departing from another one, in Dubai, and all converging back from Vancouver. That's open jaw.
Steph: [00:20:25] Thank you. Let's see. You also talk about with your, the service that you provide, like some of the small things you do. LWhat are some examples of things an advisor can do, kind of value adds,when someone books with them that don't cost them anything, don't take a lot of time, that can help justify the price increase. For most agents, I think on average, it's $25 or $30 US dollars for domestic and $50 for international when we do our fee survey. And I'll link to the fee survey in our show notes so that people are able to get tons of information on what people are charging for.
But what, what kind of value adds do you offer to your clients for the price?
Lary: [00:21:17] I have a ton of stuff. But just to keep it concrete and actionable, like if an agent tomorrow wanted to do something and increase their fee from $25 to $50, because first of all, a lot of agents I feel charge for air, right? And if you do it for the booking part, perfect. Keep doing it, right?
But then tomorrow morning, if you want to build a package that has four things in it. Let's say you will do online check-in 24 hours prior. You will perhaps, if there's upgrades available, you're going to let them know and pay for it.
If they want to upgrade to business like cash upgrades. You're going to pay for their bags online as you do the check in. And then, you're just going to monitor their flights during that journey, right? You're going to set some alerts and you're getting there, keep an eye. And if there's anything that comes up—a delay, a gate change, anything—you're just going to communicate with them and let them know.
Those four things for example, if you want to sell it as an add-on to your $25, you can keep doing that. Like, "Listen, hey, I have this product do you want to pay an extra"—you know, if you want to make it a hundred dollars or $50 or $75—"I'll do X, Y, and Z."
And if you still feel that this is not enough, these four items to justify the increase, then piling a bunch of COVID stuff that you're going to have to do extra. Because that's the easiest way to sell it, right?
It depends on your level of confidence and the experience you have with fees. The less things you have and the more they have, the better they go. But I understand that when you start, sometimes you feel like you need to list a lot of stuff to justify the price. Just make that list as long as you can. And these are all things that you currently do.
For example, I do the online check-in, like I track the incoming flight. If I know if a client leaves at six in the morning, I'll track the flight in the night before to their airport and make sure it's on the ground cause chances are tomorrow morning we're not going to have any delay.
And then I'm gonna send them a quick note before I go to bed. Like listen, your plane's on the ground, looks all good with tomorrow morning for on time.
I'll make sure I know what time they're leaving the house. And if there's a delay, then I'll let them know before they leave the house so they can leave a little later. Let's say if it's like a two, three hour delay, for example, I'll let them know.
So it's all about communicating for the most part.
For some reason there's a delay on the way in, and all of a sudden, like they're crunching to like, I don't know, 45 minutes to connect on a specific airport, I will go on my phone and I will Google 'Toronto Pearson Airport terminal three map'. It will bring me the map of the airport in Toronto with all the gates. And I'll, I'll do a screenshot and right on my phone. I will circle, "Here's where you're arriving. Here's where you're going." And I'll circle and I'll just send that off. Very simple. Then they receive it and they go, "Oh."
And it just brings your stress down a little bit, right? Like just some peace of mind. Somebody's there. I just got to go from here to here.
If there's a train to do in between the terminals, I'll let them know there is that. So you know what to expect once they get off plane. So that's one of the things.
I mean, clients can do all that themselves. I mean, the, the American Airline app is amazing for that. And a lot of times—some of my clients fly with AA—I have their trip on the app. I pull it up and I go they need to go from this gate to this gate. They send me the routing with all the nice arrows—there's none of my finger arrows on there—I screenshot it, I send it to my clients and they go, "Wow. That's amazing."
It's almost like, how did you do that? And it's like, it's simple.
Cause a lot of time it's all stuff that your clients can do themselves as well, but they don't necessarily want to do it. And they, they probably didn't even know you could do it a lot of times, right. Not everybody's really savvy and not everybody wants to do it.
So that's stuff, gate changes are killer. Even though, again, all your clients could have gate updates right online if they chose to, but a lot of them don't right. So if there's a gate change and brushing through security, I'll send them a text like, "Listen, now Gate B62."
And they'll be like, "Shit, thank you. I didn't have to go all the way to C30 to come back."
You know, like, it's just little things that you could do. And these are all the things that, that I do when they fly.
What else would I do?
Steph: [00:25:25] Well you have a lot of like touch points, which is, I think, unique. During their trip, there's a lot of touch points, even when things aren't going wrong. We all know how stressful it is to travel, and especially if there's a tight connection. Like, yes, you can look at your phone and look at the app but if you just got this text that was proactively there, it's like, "Here Steph, you need to go to this gate. Here's the directions," instead of having to look things up. So much less stressful and a time saver.
Lary: [00:25:54] Yeah. Oh, absolutely. It's again, it's just communicating and it's usually a lot of stuff that agents already know what to do. They already know where to look that stuff up. It's, it's nothing specific to just booking air tickets. It's just having it in the back of your mind that I'm trying to make it a seamless and stress free as possible for my client on their journey.
And I'm taking that on for them and they can do whatever they do. They can work, they can relax, they can get ready for their meeting. They could do whatever they want. I'll take that on. And I'll virtually fly with them is essentially what is.
Now, I mean, you could go down the rabbit hole doing a lot of stuff, right?
Like I did. But you don't need to. There's a lot of little touch points that don't take a lot of time, that are easy to automate. That any agent can do tomorrow that can increase the fee they charge for air, with very minimal extra work on their part, but that will generate a tremendous amount of value for your client.
And if you manage to capitalize on that value with pricing, all you're going to get is raving fans at the end of the day.
Steph: [00:26:56] Yeah. Well, you also have, kind of a program you're working on and just launching that your goal is to kind of teach advisors how to double their air revenue. Can you chat a little bit more on that and where people can go to learn more information?
Lary: [00:27:14] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's just, I want to work with like established travel advisors to help them double their air revenue.
And essentially it's leveraging work they already do. And it doesn't sacrifice any of their particular niche market or the specialty they do. And they won't jeopardize your client base, which is what a lot of advisors are worried about when they start into fees.
You know, essentially I want to, I want to show on that little piece of the airfare, how we can monetize it. And the hope is that as a byproduct, agents will draw parallels in their niche market. Say, "Listen, when I do the air, I could do this type of service. I'll get this much money. Wait a second, I can also do similar kind of packaging, similar kind of thing."
And then slowly you move your fees across your business from the little air, eventually you'd get to your niche market and ultimately you get to a point where you charge air, all the way across your business, for everything you do, for everyone you serve.
But that's just the way to start small. And I'll can show you how we can make money with air, which nobody thinks they can, but it's feasible. And it's really about service and it can transfer across everything an agent does.
The curriculum is not all set yet. It's going to be launching in about a month from now. But we're going to go with looking at the mind set stuff and how will you become the authority. We'll look at your clients, your current client base that you have, what your future clients are going to look like when you design a service experience.
We're going to work on delivery package. We're going to sit and I'm going to show you all the tools, all the automation that you can use to effectively produce all that, which is going to ultimately generate more revenue on air that you already do anyway, and hopefully increase your profitability. If anything, just add one revenue stream and you know, and from there it's going to grow into your business sideways. And then you're going to eventually, as an advisor, become profitable.
Steph: [00:29:20] Take over the world!
Lary: [00:29:21] Exactly. Start with air and then take the rest.
Steph: [00:29:26] Yeah. And so the, the details for signing up, because depending when you're listening to this, the product may or may not be launched, but you can go to airfareconsultant.com/HAR and there'll be a landing page where you can sign up for more details and get on the list so Lary can keep you updated.
Let's kind of talk about your actual fees that you're charging. So right now you have two tracks for your fees. One is like the more transactional, each ticket is this much.
And then you have your monthly retainer program and you are very clear about your fees. Like they're listed on your website, which I'll link to in the show notes, I'll link to the fee page so people can see the pricing structure. But let's start with the transactional fees. So how did you come up with pricing for that?
Lary: [00:30:22] Oh, I started way back when I started, when I left Flight Centre and I started charging fees. Again, I thought at the time it needs to be based on the time it's going to take me to do a particular booking and I didn't know, cause I was just starting out. So I was like, I'm just gonna, I'm gonna put a percentage, right?
People were accustomed to percentages. You can look around usually they tip 15%. So I started with 10%. And then I started building like that 10% in at the time.
When I first started, I was doing everything for everyone, from cruises to safaris, to air, to all-inclusive vacations. I did everything just like a good travel agent would start off.
And, and then at some point, when I had a good ending of how long it would take me to do each thing, because I realized that 10% of a $300 ticket and 10% of a $1,500 ticket, they both take the same time. I just make that much less money on the $300 one, right?
So then I, I had a flat rate. So then I built some flat rates again by domestic international and by cabin class.
And then after a year, another year and a bit of doing that, I realized that most of my good clients that I really enjoy working with would only use me for air anyway. And that's what I'm world-class at. That's what I love to do. So I decided I was just going to focus on air and drop everything else. Because all my good clients clearly didn't need me for hotels or cars or anything because their assistants or executive assistants or wives, they would do it themselves. They would take care of that stuff. And they only got me for air.
So I started with that. And then from there I progressively increased my fees, to the point where even that one time, I think I shared that story where I was increasing my fees and I was very nervous and I put that email out and there was about 60 to 80 people on my list at the time. And it was all about the fees are going up, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then I send the email. Yeah, but I forgot to attach the attachments that had the new fee structure. And in the end, only two people email me back and says, what are the fees now?
So it kind of reinforces that the fees, a lot of the time, is like as an advisor's hurdle, as opposed to on the client side.
And that was my first realization and it's progressed over the time, but that's when it first started.
And then after a while, because I was only servicing, I mean, I would say that I probably service today, like, I don't service more than 25, 20 to 30 clients pretty much, right? So even though I do 700 and some thousand, like it's not like zillion amount of flights, like I don't do a ton of stuff, right?
My goal has always been to charge the most amount of money and serve the least amount of clients. And, and again, after a while was like, I started to do a frequent flyer management for my clients and do their upgrades and all that kind of stuff. Just to, again, raise my fees and increase my value.
And, and in terms of the frequent flyer program, you know, not many people are very savvy with it. I'm not super savvy, but I definitely know a lot more of my clients to make sure that we can use all the benefits. And frequent flyers with status it's on a yearly basis type thing. So I wanted a bigger commitment for my clients so I started this retainer program which would be based on a year's worth of travel from a client. And we would divide it up equally in 12 months payments. So each month, they pay me a flat rate and based on the amount of flying they do. And when we first started the relationship, we agree on a price and then six months later we review it.
And if they fly way more than they told me, then we'll increase it. And if they fly with less, then we'll adjust it. Just anything to create a win-win situation for both of us. And it's amazing for me because now it's kind of stabilize my revenue a little bit. It makes that every time I start a new month, then I have this certain revenue that's not guaranteed because I still don't lock my client has a contract. I still do months and months. I want to keep the onus and make sure that I own up to my end of the bargain and I keep at it. As opposed to lock them in for a year. Because when you say retainer a lot of time, most of my clients go like, "Ah, yeah, I did hire a lawyer on retainer and as soon as I signed, I never heard from him again."
So I needed to be specific, but anyway, so I do the retainer thing and my clients understand that there are months that we're going to travel more than the retainer fee, months that we're going to travel way less but at the end of the year, we're both going to come out ahead.
I'll be happy financial aid. They'll be happy with the service and what they receive. And we're both winning and moving forward.
Steph: [00:34:49] So I guess two questions on the retainer. Are the tiers set? Like, if you like have $50,000 worth of air during the year, it's this much. And then secondly, like how did COVID affect these retainer clients? Are they still with you?
Lary: [00:35:09] Yeah, absolutely. So the retainer, it first started I had one flat fee for everyone. Shot myself in the foot on that one with a few clients. And now it's been for the last two years, it's been, it's been based on their status, right? So their airline status dictates how much they fly.
That doesn't account for flying another airline. That doesn't count, but in a pretty good idea. Like I know what a hundred thousands miles status, 100k flies, and they have a price. So I tried to fit people within like the 25 to 35k, 50 to 75k and a 100k+, they have a separate fee. And that's worked for awhile.
And then I'm going to attempt to change a little bit again. I'm going to try something different where I'm going to change the structure to not so much to how much they fly, but how much they want to pay for the service they want. Kind of a bit of a SaaS model, like the services of software industry, where you pay less, you get less, you pay more, you get a little more. And there'll be like a little more accuracy. And then the last year we're going to have full out frequent flyer management program, upgrade miles, all that kind of stuff. and then kind of gives you perspective.
Same way is when I present airfares, I tried to present the perspective then so that it makes it very obvious where they should go, right? Which one they should pick; which package they should go into. So that's going to be my, my foray into, trying this particular pricing model.
Steph: [00:36:38] So did any clients end up, kind of with cost saving measures, dropping the retainer with COVID?
Lary: [00:36:46] Oh, yeah, that's right. The second question. So, after when most of us stopped canceling, like at the end of March. It wasn't until the 1st of April came along, cause all my retainer goes on the first of the month, that I really realized that I was going to be really affected by that. For some reason before that I didn't even think of that. Everybody else was panicking. And I was like, "I'm still good. I'm still working. I'm canceling, I'm still working!"
And then I went to bed one night and I was like, "Ah, no, I have really good clients. I'm pretty sure they're going to pay me." And then I got up the next day and I didn't feel that confident. I was like, "Maybe just ask them."
So at the time I had six on a retainer and I sent them each an individual video message, which says something along the lines of, "Listen, the next payment is coming up. I understand the situation we're in." And my preference, I didn't want them to go first—before I reached out to them—down their list of expenses and go "Travel, yeah, I get that out of there. We're not going to do that for a while."
I just wanted to make sure I was ahead of that curve. And I asked them, I said, "Listen, if you see any issues with the payment of the month, let me know. I'm here to help, whatever I can do to help you go through this. We'll go through this together."
And I send that out. And then the answers that I got back were just amazing. Like I got, first of all, I lost one client, my newest client, which we only been in business together for about two months. So we didn't really have a lot of time to build that type of relationship.
So I was like okay, that's that's fair, fair game. And then the other ones went from, "Lary you're a good friend. I'm not affected at all." He's in the service as a software industry. "I'm more than happy to support you through this; keep sending your invoices."
Another client, an Instagram guy. So he's like, "Listen, Lary. I understand how the retainers work." We did a lot of flying in the first three months of the year, up until mid March. And then at the time we thought it was only going to last a month or two, right? So he's like, "We're going to do plenty of travel in the back end of the year. I'm more than happy to support you. I'm not affected by this. Please keep sending them here."
And then the last one, the last one was like, he said—and he was a relatively new client as well, but, very relationship based and everything he does, which is amazing, and that's how we got connected—and he was like, "Listen, if you were to go under and not get through this, I don't know where I would go for my air service. Like, I don't want to find out. I don't want to spend the time." Essentially saying I have a vested interest in your survival. "So please keep sending me your invoice and I'll pay it."
And I ended up firing one client halfway through the summer. Which he wasn't paying me, I was kind of giving him a break, but it didn't work anymore. So I had to fill that spot with somebody else.
But essentially, yeah, most of these clients are still paying me to this day and most of them haven't flown since the middle of March.
Steph: [00:39:28] Oh, it's so dreamy. Yeah. Well, if you do run into someone that like a new client that comes in and the retainer program would be good for them and make financial sense, but you're, you're getting push back from them that they aren't so keen on the value of it. What would you like, how do you approach that?
Lary: [00:39:54] It depends. I think before we talk value, I think we would have a conversation first. Like I always liked to talk to the clients and see if there is a fit.
Before I bring in pricing, I would, I would try to figure out where they need my help. Like, why did they call me? When somebody mentioned my name, somebody mentioned what I did, what in there was like, "Ah, I need that." Like, what are you most frustrated by?
And if I feel like I can definitely help there and remove that pain, then we talk about pricing and it's never really an issue. A lot of time, if somebody has a pushback, for example, I'll say, "Listen, let's just do a trial run. Give me a chance. I'll do the first booking, whatever the fee is. And now when you come back, I'm going to call you and I'm going to ask you, 'So did you feel like you've got enough value for the amount you paid?' And if you say, 'I don't feel like I did', then I would just refund you the money. No questions asked and we'll go on our separate ways."
One other thing other than that, we would do as well. A lot of the clients, well, not a lot, but one guy in particular. We're two, individuals that get along and we'll make it work. And we both have the confidence that we would come to a win-win solution in the end. And we settled on a price and then we did six months and happened that it stayed the same price for the last year.
So there's multiple ways of doing it. You can kinda know when somebody is really that price sensitive that you just don't want to work with them.
So I don't have any issue saying no either. Listen, I'm not a good fit. I'm not the person for you. I can't really help you that way. Cause that way it just leaves that slot open for somebody who really fits the bill and for us to have a good chance of having a good working relationship.
Steph: [00:41:46] You had mentioned earlier that part of the package is that you're servicing their frequent flyer programs. So for people that are interested in and what's involved with that for you, what does it look like? What are you doing to manage the program? Which I, by the way, am horrible at it. I need someone to manage my frequent flyer programs cause I'm sure I'm throwing things out the window left and right. Actually, I know I am.
Lary: [00:42:11] Yeah. Well, essentially what it comes down to is right from when we do the research, right? Part of my process, and as part of my recommendation to the client, I will always have in the back of my mind, "Okay. We need to worry about the frequent flyer program."
We'll have a strategy for the year. Like what do we want to do? Do we stay super elite? Do we want to keep a hundred thousand miles? Are we okay to drop? What are the benefits we're going to lose? Are we okay with them? We analyze it and then we set a plan. And my job is to make sure that I keep it on track and always remind him that, listen, we can go Air Canada cause that's where the status is, it's going to cost an extra $500. Or we can go this cheaper route with another airline, with British Airways, for example, but you're going to miss out on all these miles. And perhaps at the end of the year, we're going to fall short, right? So that goes at the first step of it.
Second it will be, you know, sometimes, even in the list of the frequent flyer program, is just making sure your miles get allocated to your account, which is something silly to do. But most people don't do it, right? Most people don't know. If once it's ticketed it's done, right
So I asked that and every quarter I do it or I get somebody else to do it.
I mean, just go check, check, check, check, check, check. Takes 15 minutes, right? But that's part of the overall value that the client really enjoys. I'll do, if they have status, I'll make sure that they, they know, or we know, all the benefits that come with the status so we can leverage every single one of them whenever we can.
I'll handle a lot of the upgrade, right? If we can use some of the upgrades that they're entitled to, when they travel as a status holder, then I'll make sure we book in a specific fare class in order to leverage that. So there's a bit of a technicality on that particular front but I would say like the generally speaking, it's just always reminding them cause everybody wants to save money.
It doesn't matter how much money you make. If you see a lower price you'll be like, "Yeah, let's go with that one." You're like, "Yeah, but you're going to miss out on this, this, this, this, and this." And they go, "Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Let's go here. Let's do here." So sometime it's just reminding them constantly.
the biggest part is just figure, making sure they stay on track to do it, to keep the status. Cause once they have it, nobody ever wants to go back and lose benefits to traveling, especially when you, when you've gotten them. So that's a part of the frequent flyer program.
Steph: [00:44:25] Cool. Well,I think one thing that can really scare advisers away from ai- only bookings is debit memos. And if you aren't familiar with debit memos, I'll link in the show notes to an article that goes over all things debit memos. It's very exciting.
But for you, Lary, have you found that debit memos are a serious issue that's like cutting into your profits? That it's this huge risk that you have to worry about?
Lary: [00:44:49] No, not for me specifically. I mean, I view it as a cost of doing business, to be honest. I mean, it's no different than credit card fees. Most of my clients use American Express and that's the highest percentage that's out there and it's just the way it is, right?
Like I just eat it up and it's just part of how I price my stuff. And that's all included. I averaged about $600-$700 a year in debit memos, which is not huge, but you can definitely get... one I had over $2,000. And it was an error and it got all fixed and whatnot, but it definitely got my blood boiling.
So I can only imagine if you've got several of them. And it gets to add up. It's very attention to detail. And a lot of time it just needs a good checklist and make sure that when you issue your ticket, if you do, that you follow everything that's on there.
And a lot of host agencies have a ticket queue. That's somebody else will go through them, make sure you don't miss anything. So that's a good way to do it. Or, I mean, to anything that I do, I don't have to do the booking, right? I can use a wholesaler.I can give them the ticketing and I could get them to take the debit memo is if they make a mistake, they'll pay for it.
The only thing is when I don't do the booking personally, it takes the control out of my hands a little bit in terms of how active I can be when the client's at the airport and the flight's been cancelled or delayed and whatnot. So, I prefer to keep it and the risk of having a bigger debit memo. That has a bigger upside for me, in terms of, how fast I can help the client, how seamless I can make it and how I can jump the queue and grab a seat before anybody else does. As opposed to call the wholesaler, wait on hold potentially.
And, having said that, I work with a wholesaler and they're available like this [snaps fingers], through email, phone. They're only closed from midnight to five in the morning. So I wouldn't hesitate to have them ticket my stuff.
But if you're, if somebody is afraid of debit memos, there's other ways to do it, then just issue the ticket yourself. You can still do all the extra services, the concierge, the highly personalized stuff. You could still do that on top of any tickets issued by a wholesaler. No problem at all.
Steph: [00:47:01] And for those that aren't familiar with it, we're talking about debit memos. We're talking about typically when you're in the GDS system is when you're going to be getting the debit memos.
If you're not in the GDS system, your host agency might have a ticketing desk or your consortium might have a ticketing desk that can help you with that. Like host agencies, most of them will have some kind of a—I'm not exactly sure that term—I think it's like a mid office system that's watching for fraud or different things in ticketing that are missing, that could cause debit memos, which is kind of a fail safe for you.
Well, let's see. I think we've got a good feel for your fee structure and kind of the thought process that drives your agency. That it's really about the service and not really the transaction of booking the air.
So let's, move into the next section where we can kind of talk about your booking process and what you do. So I think my first question is your business, you said is built on the idea that you have fewer clients and the idea that you're able to give them more time and attention. And I know you said this earlier, but could you repeat this? How many clients, do you have at any given time?
Lary: [00:48:14] I have like 30. No more than that. I mean, all said and done over the years, I have a list longer than that. But of people that constantly keep coming back that makes, like, I would say like 85% of my, of my book of business, but no more than 20 to 30 clients.
Steph: [00:48:32] Okay. So with this smaller set of clients that you're working with, and it sounds like it's on a pretty regular, semi-regular basis, that allows you to kind of get an.... it's a little bit different from like, say a leisure agent where maybe they're only booking a couple trips a year for their client. But that booking a lot for them gives you the chance to kind of get in a rhythm with them. And when we last chatted, you had mentioned that you train your clients on how to communicate their flight needs to you. So tell, tell us more about what that looks like and why it's helpful.
Lary: [00:49:11] Yeah, I mean the a that took a long time, but now it's, it's working really good.
It just needs to remind them to do it as opposed to do it the way they've always done it. It started because one time particular client I was working with—and I work with mostly entrepreneurs—and entrepreneurs, when they wear the hat of the business owner, they make decision based on numbers and they're very pragmatic that way.
And then when they travel, then it's a different person. Like they have a different hat, like they're relaxed and like it's different, right? So I wanted them to communicate the information over to me in the traveler mode.
So what I tell most of my clients is like, when you relay the information. Let's make it look like I'm the pilot, I'm flying your private jet and you tell me exactly ideally, if there was zero constraints, right? There's no time constraints. There's no flight departures. There's no cost constraints, nothing. Just tell me how the trip would go. And what time would you leave preferably. And what time would you arrive at destination? Why? Because I like to go to bed early or because I have an early speaking engagement the next day. Just give me the context, right?
Give me what you would like it to look like. Ideally, I would come back, you know, I stop speaking at three o'clock. By the time I get to the airport at six o'clock and I could see myself at home by 9:30, by the time the kids go to bed. Maybe it's a little delayed, but anyways, you get, you get the gist of it.
So then when I get that information, then I'll go in and I'll build what I call the baseline. And I'll price that out. And that'll come out to, let's say $1,500.
Steph: [00:50:42] And that's like meeting every single one of their needs.
Lary: [00:50:46] Exactly the itinerary, exactly the way they want it. As opposed to just start with the cheapest and work their way up.
I started with what they really want, and that brings a baseline, it's $1,500. And then I'll go in, I'll look above that line. So what's the better product? What's the better airline? What's a better airplane you can fly on? What's a better business class if they're flying business, right? Could we upgrade you to a better airline, a better type of aircraft that has a much better life flat seat?
And then I'll price that out and I'll list if it's an extra $400 or $500—to make it a round number at 2000—I'll list the benefits that you're going to get for that $500. And then they can decide based on if they want it.
And then I'll go lower and I'll be like, "Listen, if you really wanted to go this low, we could go to this rock bottom, but this is what you'd be missing out on. You wouldn't have that. You'd have half your miles. We'd have to pay for seats. You would get to check your bags. You wouldn't get priority. You wouldn't get all this stuff." So then the client can decide easily. It's almost a no brainer when you put it that way. They'll be like, for sure, let's go with the baseline or whatever it is.
Cause they've seen either side and they can make a really quick decision. And eventually it goes down to a point where I just send them one itinerary and it's their baseline. And they just go, let's just go with that. It's less work for everybody. It's the less work for them to think about it, to look through a bunch of different options.
And it works for them, they're okay with the price. Because a lot of time it's not really about the price; they just say, let's go with that. So with clients that I have been working for a while, that's pretty much that the process that we have now. It's very fast, very quick for them to download the information to me.
And it's very easy for me to return back what they should do. And it takes a lot less time for both of us, which is amazing.
Steph: [00:52:25] And you use an app that I'd never heard of before, which is kind of unique to communicate as your main source. You send the itineraries via email so that everything's in writing, but when you're kind of going back and forth with the client, I think it's called Voxer. Is that right?
Lary: [00:52:43] Yeah, correct. Yeah. It's kind of a walkie walkie talkie app. And it's great because you know, like sometimes we'll have almost a phone conversation through the walkie-talkie. They'll be talking and I'll be listening. You can do that. You don't have to wait until it's done to listen.
And oftentimes they go do something else and they come back. We communicate when it works for each of us, right? But it's voice.It's so much faster, you know, like next to a phone call. That's definitely the second biggest thing. So yeah, we do use a lot of voice stuff.
I have a segment of my clients that are ,you know, I would say like 55 and above, and that's all they know is talk phone. They build a relationship based on flying across the pond and shaking hands over a scotch after dinner, come back, done deal, right? And then they always call.
So for them, the Voxer and the walkie-talkie is really great because now they can, with the time zones and everything, they could get it off their chest whenever they want to. And I get it when I, when I get up and we just communicate that way and it makes them very efficient. As opposed to wait for emails and inboxes and all that kind of stuff. So that's a pretty cool app.
Steph: [00:53:46] Yeah. I'll, I'll link to it in the show notes if anyone's interested in kind of integrating it into their agency.
So, you talked a little bit about consolidators, or wholesalers, earlier. So where do you typically end up booking your clients air? Is it mostly done in the GDS. Or like what percentage is GDS versus consolidators? Do you ever book like direct on the sites?
Lary: [00:54:13] It's pretty much 90% of the GDS. I would say it's probably even 95% of the GDS, like a handful with the wholesaler. And then, I do happen sometimes, you know, sometimes you get a client that gets a percentage discount because their TV screen wasn't working and you can only redeem those online.
So, and because to me, the business is based on that I get compensated for the work I do by the client. And if I happen to work on it, and have to book on a website, if somebody wants a Southwest flight, for example, I don't get commission anyways, Canadian. I don't know if anybody else does, but I'm thinking it's across the board and nobody does, but I'm still getting paid for it, right? So it doesn't matter to me. I don't need to be booking through a particular channel.
So yeah, at the time I book I'm not, I'm not 'I need to be in the GDS all the time', because I've only been in GDS for seven years. So it's... you know, like I'm efficient at it, but I'm nowhere near what a lot of people do.
But I use it whenever I need to, because I like to keep the control over the PNR so that I can more efficiently service the clients when it's needed really fast.
Steph: [00:55:17] Yeah. And one thing I learned from you and we were chatting was kind of the, how frequent flyers play within consolidators. And if you're managing the program, one thing that you have to be aware of, if you're going to book into consolidate. Can you chat a little more on that?
Lary: [00:55:36] Yeah, absolutely. What I found is that a lot of times, I mean, if anybody's familiar with frequent flyer programs and most airlines are about the same nowadays in North America, which is you need to fly a certain amount of miles and you need to spend a certain amount of money in order to get the status, right?
It's been miles forever but for the last two, three years now, there's that extra level of criteria where you need to meet a certain dollar amount. And if you book a business class ticket. A lot of time on consolidators they usually they can have pretty significant discount. Like he could save like two, three, you can save thousands of dollars going to them.
But what happened is a lot of those will be bulk, right? And they're labeled, but bulk fares usually means that it doesn't come with a dollar amount attached to it. So even though you book on Air Canada, Air Canada, doesn't have a way to see how much you actually pay for the tickets. Therefore, they don't allocate any dollars to the status.
Which to me, it's like I bring it up to the client. It's like, "Listen, we can, sometimes we can afford to not get the dollars, right? For the status. And we'd rather take the savings."
But you need to know that that's a possible hurdle, right? But that's one of the biggest ones. And so I'll have to make sure. And there's some net fares that do it as well. Most fares will give you the miles, that's not an issue. They always credit them off to the account, regardless of what type of fares you're in. But some of them won't give the dollar amount. That's crucial to qualifying for status. And something I learned the hard way... and now I know.
All Other Stuff
Steph: [00:57:10] Yeah, well that's really great stuff. I've just got a few more questions. I want to ask you that don't really fall under a nice umbrella topic. So, we'll move into my catch-all All Other Stuff section.
So let's see. What kind of marketing—because when we were scheduling our call, it was really funny because I was like, "Okay, let me know which number to reach you at." And then, Lary writes back, I'm looking forward to see you.
And then I'm looking in his signature when I'm getting ready to call him. And I'm like, "Oh, there's no phone number there." And I go to his website and there's no phone number on there. And I was like Facebook stocking. And I was like, "Oh cool. There's a phone number I can call him at."
Clearly you don't do tons and tons of marketing because the phone number was hard to find--
Lary: [00:58:04] Zero.
Steph: [00:58:04] But, what kind--zero? Okay. So no social media, no networking groups, nothing.
Lary: [00:58:11] No, not for—I mean, in a sense you do when you network, right? And because you build relationships, eventually you get to, "Hey, what do you do?" And once you build that relationship, then I guess it's a kind of marketing, same as referrals, which is word of mouth, but that's pretty much all I go on. Like, that's how my business started and that's how it's grown.
And sure. It's a little slower at times, right? Because you need to spend time to build trust with the clients before they feel comfortable putting another relationship that they have with somebody else in your hands, right? That trust directly. So it's really touchy, but it always makes for really good referrals and really amazing clients.
And the good thing about referrals is that a lot of time I'm very transparent about fees because I feel like everybody's used a travel agent before and nobody's ever paid anything. So I just want to make sure I'm just like, "Listen, there's a fee to use my service." And I always bring it up and most of the time I get a,"Oh, that's fine. Yeah. If Johnny pays it, like he referred me to you... I'm sure if he pays it, it's fair and I'll pay it as well." And so that's another reminder that the hurdle with the fees is often on the side of the advisor not so much on the side of the client. yeah.
So, I don't really do a lot of stuff.
I tried over the COVID. I did a few videos to help out people and give them information about new rules and regulations and credits and what they can do and all that kind of stuff. That's pretty much the extent of it. Like I don't do anything specifically targeted to getting new clients in terms of Facebook ads or Instagram ads.
I mean, I have accounts, but I don't really use them for that, but here and there I'll say something and somebody would go like, "Oh, you do that?" And then maybe that gets me the lead, I guess, but it's not deliberate.
Steph: [01:00:04] Yeah. You know what, what I love talking about or why I love talking to so many different advisors is because there's a zillion—like sometimes people that are newer to the industry, want there to be like one way to do things. But what I love about it is it's just so diverse the way that people market themselves and the structures of their companies. And that's kind of the purpose of the podcast is to shine light on all these different possibilities and you can take and pick what you like from each one and create an agency that works for you.
Lary: [01:00:35] I'll tell you a story though. I guess, in a sense that is marketing. But now that I think about it, it is. But, I had a client worked with in the past that was hosting an event in Cabo San Lucas. And it's very selective and there's only 150 entrepreneurs that go to it. And, he reached out to me cause he's like, "Lary, I can't find any direct flights from Canada."
And then I looked into it. I was like, "Well, because you picked the slowest period of the season." Because he's renting the whole hotel. And obviously when nobody's there yeah, sure, have the whole hotel but what comes with it is off season. And in off season in Canada, there's very little nonstop service from Canada to Mexico. In the winter there's tons of them. But in, in the month of October, the season starts in November, usually. And he's like, "Oh my God. It's going to be that complicated for all my clients to get there?" And I was like, "Kind of."
And it's only a few days retreat, right? So it's a very quick turnaround. So, he reached back out to me and he's like, "Listen, how much would you charge me if, if I was to bring your name up and I'd ask people to contact you? Like I would offer that on me as part of a service of what I do, like a concierge service. And I would offer your service for all my clients that come."
And at the time I was like, I feel like I should be paying you to access 150 of my ideal clients. And I said, "Listen, let's do it. I'll do it for free. I feel that's going to be enough exposure for me. And at the end of the day, if I get two or three more clients out of this bunch, that's gonna make it."
So I guess in a sense, that's a bit of marketing, if you will. But again, it's always, from my perspective, it's always just help when you can and good things will come back. I just never know. And I still have clients—it's been a year now—that say, "Hey, remember me, you booked me to Cabo." I'm like, "Oh yeah."
Because I did a good impression and they didn't pay anything but I got to, you know, show what I do, how I can do it.
And I'll, I'll give you just one last one. I had one CEO of a staffing company, a virtual assistant staffing company. And if you know anything about outsourcing and whatnot, travel is often something that gets outsourced—air travel, like air bookings, hotels, that kind of stuff, right?
So she thought she'd done a lot. And like a lot of clients that I come across, they go, "Oh yeah, I can do that. Like I do bookings all the time. Like I book all the time. Like, I'm really good at it actually. Like, I'm fantastic at it." And people tell me that.
Until I handled their travel, they go, "Oh, okay. That's pretty good. I never thought about half the stuff, right?. And even then she's like, and then after a while she's like, "Oh, that is what you do!"
Cause sometimes when you explain to people what you do, in their head they're like, "Yeah, I can do that. Yeah. No brainer, whatever." And then she was so amazed after the trip and she was like, now I understand what you do.
So sometimes, offering a trial to someone is probably the best way to get them to buy in or get them to see what you're capable of doing.
And a lot of time, something really cool that somebody could do next time they book air is like, just communicate your thought process when you send an itinerary to someone. Tell them things that you looked at that probably they didn't, or they never looked at, or they never, never think about looking at.
So an example, I would send an itinerary to a client and I would say, "Listen, I would recommend you take this particular itinerary because it has an hour and 45 minute connection. There's one faster at 45 minutes. But you're going to go to Minneapolis and we know what can happen in the winter. A little bit of deicing, there goes 25 minutes and then boom, 45 minutes connection is gone, right? So I'm building a buffer so that we have enough time, knowing it's winter, knowing where you're connecting, to get you through to your destination.
And people go, like, "I would never thought about looking at the airport I'm connecting to." And same thing goes with connecting in Denver, Chicago, Toronto, New York in the wintertime. If I can use Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, Houston, I will. And I will bring that up to my clients.
Other times there'll be like, something as simple as, you know, I think if you're going to 16 hours across the Pacific to go to Australia, I would recommend this one because this one is on a Dreamliner.
It's on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Nobody else knows except for me. Well not, but my clients mostly don't know this is the brand new aircraft it's made of this composite. And the advantage of flying on this aircraft is that it's got very high humidity content in the cabin. It's pressurized at an altitude lower any other airliner, like 2000 feet which helps with dizziness and dryness and jet lag and all that kind of stuff. So all of these advantages, if you're going to compound that for 16 hours, I would definitely fly on that bird.
And people are like, "Oh, I would have taken this other plane cause it's cheaper and it goes through China."
So a lot of time, like what I go in my head, when I do the research, I felt like there's a lot of value if I can just communicate that to the client. It increased my credibility because now they're like, "Shit, this guy knows what he's doing. He's looking at stuff that I never thought I should be looking at."
So it makes it that much easier to sell something to someone and to ask for money for it because they know that you're doing more than they could at that time, even though everybody knows that looking up a flight is fairly easy. Well, it is... you click, click, click, click. But oftentimes you don't see what's in the cracks, right? The layovers, and the airlines and the connections and all that kind of stuff.
So I explained a lot of that, again, along with the same thing as before, which started as tracking flights from my client for my own sanity, turns out to be a really cool customer service tool. Because now I can let them know it's delayed and they go, "Shit. That's good. Thank you."
So it's all these little things that you can do and, and it's, you know, everybody can do it really easy.
Steph: [01:06:28] Yeah. So, well, when you're talking about, like the Dreamliner and the humidity in the cabin, like these types of these bits of knowledge that you're coming up with, for someone that's not as familiar with. airlines or airfares, where are some places you would recommend people go to learn more so that they can come up with these?
Like, is there a, a Facebook group or an airline enthusiast magazine that they can subscribe to? Where do you get these details?
Lary: [01:07:03] The easiest thing you could do is, I use seatguru.com and it's as easy as you put the flight number, AC123, the date, and it already knows what type of aircraft that you're flying on.
And then you can look at the type of aircraft and on there it's going to detail: does it have USB power plugin, what's the business class look like, what's the service onboard look like. And sometimes it would just be like, "Hey, make sure you bring an adapter or make sure you bring the USB cable cause they don't have 110 volts on there if you want to charge your phone on there."
So these are just a little thing you could do. Leg room is a big one, right? Like everybody's flown before, everybody knows that sometimes you're in a really tight plane and again, on Flight Guru you could see: what's the pitch in economy, what's the distance in between the seat in front of you.
And if a different routing has more legroom and you know your client is 6 foot 3, then perhaps you bring that up, right? And they don't have to find out on the plane for a lengthy flight. So, so those are a few really quick things that someone can do.
Apart from that, yeah. Anything that you go through in your head when you look at it, just don't assume that the clients do the same research and look at the same things. Point them out, list them out. And if it's too long on an email, I usually send a voice memo attached to the email listing all that stuff, but like quickly, like a quick two minutes jot to give them why I recommended this and why they should go with it.
And as the relation develops and the trust builds eventually, it's just, it's a lot faster for the advisor to do all the work. Because you already have the trust and you don't get the, "Oh, but I saw this particular flight yesterday on Google flight. What about that one?" People eventually stop looking, right?
Like if you have some of those clients, eventually as you showcase what you do, what you look at and how thorough you are with your research, people will just completely trust you. And then they will never look again and you can, you know, you can take full control of their air.
Steph: [01:09:13] So the other thing I want to mention before we start to wrap things up is if an advisor really likes the structure of your company, and, so you had talked earlier about it's your hope that they can apply kind of the theory of the fee practicing to whatever their niche is, in wherever their passions lay.
So any agency can switch gears and start providing that white glove service to their clients if that's appealing to them, but I noticed there was like probably one caveat to that, that people should be aware of. And cause when I asked you about your work life balance, Lary, when dealing with such high touch clientele, you mentioned you were like, "Hmm, Not work life balance. It's more of an integration."
So, any words of wisdom for someone whose work is more integrated into their lives? Or that is thinking about becoming an agency that gives a lot more personal attention? Like, how can you bring the work life balance back into there?
Lary: [01:10:22] Yeah. See for me, if I had to redo it again, I would really pay attention on what I put into it. So this is how much this is going to cost, and this is what I'm going to do.
Everything that has to do with my time and my own time and working 24-7 and working on the weekends and working on holidays and working all that stuff, I would try to limit it to the minimum.
That's what I would try to do differently. Cause I'll tell you. Yeah, since COVID started like, I don't sleep with my phone anymore and I always have. Again, just proactively trying to make sure the flights depart on time, the flight connects on the other end. And if it's in Europe, it's in the middle of the night.
I don't want to go back there. And that's part of the adjustments that I'm making with my new packages and whatnot. Cause yeah, you can list a bunch of stuff, but just read them and just look at them and see if it's going to lead you down that rabbit hole that I happen to fall into. Which is, it's one thing to deliver highly personalized service and whatnot, but sometimes you can go to the point where yes, it's going to push you to working way too much. And if you have families and need to have a significant other, then it can definitely encroach on that particular task.
And it's good to train your clients as well. That, I've done that with all my clients.
For most of them. I was like, "You have access to my cell phone directly, right? I'll put the onus on you to determine if it is an emergency, if it is not. Okay? So if you send me something on Saturday, I'll trust that you're going to tell me, listen, I'm sending it to you now, perfectly okay if you respond on Monday. Or listen it's Saturday, I need to fly tomorrow morning."
That's an urgency. I'll do it, right? It don't want to create this, you know, you can call me at any time for anything. So I've been putting that out there. And I'm fortunate enough that most of my clients do the same thing. Like they have the same thought and they're also available, but they like to be off sometimes. They don't always have their phone on.
So there's multiple way. For example, when I sent an alert for my client, it comes directly to me. So I'm responsible to look at it and act on it and they can come in any time, right? Usually they send me an alert, three hours before the flight letting me know it's on time. Anytime between that and the flight departure, if there's any delays, they'll let me know. It's gonna let me know when the flight is airborne and it's going to let me know when the flight touched down.
But if I didn't want to take on all that work that potentially can turn into a 7 day/24 hour whirlwind ,I can just sign my clients up for it. And they can get the email, right? And they'll get the updates and whatnot while they travel.
I mean, are you going to be able to charge as much as if I did what I did? Maybe not. But it all depends on the level of commitment you're willing to do but end of the day, if you're not going to go all out and specialize in airfare, the point is not to go that deep down the rabbit hole, but there's definitely a lot of just essential service stuff that you could do for your clients that are very easy to do and take very little time and provide a great value for your client. And you can easily just double your income that way. I mean, easily go from $25 to $50 or $25 to a hundred. I mean, I charge $175 for any economy international tickets, right? And I never get any pushback.
So even if you got the $75 and felt that was an increase because you're already doing the work anyway, every time you have a client that goes on a river cruise, might as well, right? Leverage that.
Steph: [01:13:51] Well, I can't believe it. We've already chatted the hour away and it's time to kind of roll into our final stuff, which is our warm fuzzy statement.
And yes, there's actually a warm fuzzy, segment on this podcast because, I mean, I'm involved, so of course there's a warm fuzzy segment.
I'm like, I was telling someone the other day, how I was taking a walk around the neighborhood. It's fall here right now in Minnesota. And I was walking around the neighborhood and I love the smell of like fresh fallen leaves.
And I love to like, I dunno, walk through piles of leaves. It's just a small joy of mine. So I'm walking and I'm with my two dogs and we're like on this cute little walk and I see this big pile of leaves on the sidewalk in front of me and I'm so excited and I'm just zoned in on it. And I go in and I'm like, stomping and I'm smiling.
And it's the middle of the day, so no, one's really out. Except there was! There was this man in his yard, 10 feet away from me. He was like above a retaining wall and I half fence, so I didn't really see him. And then all of a sudden, like, I heard this person laughing and I was like, "Oh. Hi. I just love the smell of leaves."
You know, that's why we have a warm fuzzy segment. Small things bring me small joys. Large joys actually.
So well, Lary don't feel any pressure because we're in the middle of a pandemic and our industry is semi-collapsed. But do you have a warm fuzzy to lift everyone's spirit as we wind down the episode? No pressure.
Lary: [01:15:29] Yeah. I mean, I think I touched on it with earlier too, but I think that, you know, what brings me joy about what I do, especially in this pandemic, the fact that the message I got back from my clients once the pandemic hit and I sent them a message about the retainer and they pretty much all opted to keep paying me through this, which has been amazing.
I assumed I had good clients, but it's really good to get that confirmation. People really care and really value what you do to the point where they're invested in your survival, in a sense. I feel like sometimes it's an opportunity our clients don't have is: how can I support you? There's nothing out there for me to support you on.
I'm fortunate people pay me a retainer. There's something. You guys can sell services, sell a gift card, restaurants do it, right? Because their patrons don't want restaurants to close. So I'm sure there's some advisors that have clients that don't want to see them go, but how would they give them money? There's there's nothing. There's no platform. There's nothing to do it. And if you say, listen and buy $300 worth of service, pay $200. And get money now, they're okay to delay service the later and it's cash for you now. And you can give the service later when you have other sources of income.
Like, that'd be great way to do it. So that's a bit of a good side of the retainer I never thought about as an advantage. It's that because I have my clients on monthly retainers perhaps—hopefully we never see another pandemic like this, but other things that happen—I may still have a paycheck and I may get support from my clients. So that's pretty amazing.
Steph: [01:17:11] Yeah. And I had told you before we got onto the recording, but we had gotten an email from a client that wrote in, and it was really sweet saying he had to cancel some of his cruises, that he was like 80 something years old. He knew that his travel advisor had put all this work into it, but that now he had to cancel the cruises and he felt really bad and he wrote, and he said, "I came across your travel agent commissions article, and wanted to know like how much commission my advisor is losing because I want to pay it out of pocket." And the man ended up having like $40,000 worth of vacations that were ending up canceling.
We just told how much commission the agent probably would have made, on average. And he paid that whole amount as a quote unquote tip to the advisor. It's just super sweet the outpouring of support from a clients when they're able to.
Lary: [01:18:11] And this guy is good. This guy reached out on his own, right?
I'm sure there's a lot of clients that would do the same, but just don't reach out and don't have a way.
Steph: [01:18:18] It was so cute! I was like, an 80 year old man, going online, searching travel agent commissions and coming across our article and writing us. The amount of work he went through was just heartwarming. It was just adorable.
Alright so well, hot diggity, we are wrapping things up. So Lary, it was an absolute pleasure to have you on the show today. I can't think of a better way than to have spent my day with all of you so thanks for joining us.
Lary: [01:18:50] Absolutely. It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
And it's always great to talk fees and airfares anytime.
Steph: [01:18:55] Yeah. And don't forget to check out, for those that are listening, first of all, if you want to learn more from Lary about all his airfare tricks, you can go to airfareconsultant.com/HAR.
And, for those of you that are listening, don't forget. We talked about our income surveys last time, and now our income reports are actually out! So check them out on Host Agency Reviews.
I'll give you a little teaser and let you know that the average income for the hosted agent that is full time, and has a few years under their belt—um, Lary can you give me a drum roll, please?
[World's quietest drum roll]
That's a very soft drum roll, but thank you.
So it's over 64,000. So it's up quite a bit from last year, which is really exciting. and we've got lax more data where that's coming from. So things like: the median income for advisers, how much came from consultation fees versus service fees.
What else is in there? What percentage of advisors earn over a hundred thousand, and lots, lots more. So visit HostAgencyReviews.com/blog and from the tag drop down menu, you can select travel agent surveys and that will pull up all of our surveys.
And that's all for now. We'll see you next time!
You can watch a video, read a transcript and view the show notes for today's show by visiting HostAgencyReviews.com/TAC and clicking on episode 17.
Now's the perfect time to rethink your agency and make the changes you've always wanted to do. But we're too busy to do. We've got a free 16 page travel agency business plan template for you as you start to write down your thoughts. We'll guide you through the process and provide plenty of resources for you as you fill out the form.
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Thanks for listening and stay safe.